Rick Fetters' 11-year-old son died of liver cancer in 1987, but the Savage resident still considers his son fortunate.
"He really got the most precious gift people can give," Mr. Fetters said yesterday. His son, Jason, received a liver transplant in March 1987, becoming Johns Hopkins Hospital's first pediatric liver transplant recipient. The boy died five months later after cancer struck again.
Yesterday, Mr. Fetters was among about 40 people who attended Howard County General Hospital's fourth annual Candlelight Service of Thanksgiving, honoring Maryland's organ and tissue donors and transplant recipients.
The ceremony also commemorates National Organ and Tissue Donor Awareness Week, which began yesterday.
Participants sang hymns and prayed before lighting a "Tree of Life," a blue spruce outside strung with white lights. Carrying votive candles, they circled the tree and sang "Amazing Grace," led by the Rev. Arthur Lillicropp III.
"It's a way of honoring the people who donated organs," said Father Lillicropp, who received two corneal transplants in 1979 and 1980. "It's a time to celebrate the fact that our lives have been transformed."
Father Lillicropp, who was blind for seven years, said he decided to become a priest during that time.
Many transplant recipients described how their donated organs changed their lives.
Brian Hartford of Columbia said he used to smoke two packs of cigarettes a day and work 80 hours a week before he had a heart attack three years ago. In April 1990, he underwent a heart transplant and now devotes much of his time telling his story to school children, and counseling organ and tissue recipients in Maryland, Washington and Virginia.
"I got the miracle of life," Mr. Hartford said. "I got a new life."
Transplant recipients said there is a continuing need for organ and tissue donations.
Of 31,000 people on a national waiting list for organs, four die each day, said Mark R. Reiner, executive director of the Transplant Resource Center of Maryland Inc., which procures organ and tissue donations. Many people fail to consider organ donation, he said.
To donate an organ, a person must be brain dead and the heart still beating. Less than 10,000 to 12,000 people nationwide meet those standards, Mr. Reiner said.
Lack of communication also prevents organ donations.
"You must let your loved ones know you want to be a donor," Mr. Hartford said.
The service was sponsored by the hospital's Department of Pastoral Care, the Medical Eye Bank of Maryland and the Transplant Resource Center of Maryland.